The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

The family of a University of Washington student who recently cracked his skull open while three sheets to the wind is apparently trying to sue his fraternity.

The claim is one of wrongful death. The family readily acknowledges that the student made the decision to drink, but that the emphasis on alcohol at a fraternity party led him to drink irresponsibly. It doesn’t help that no one saw the 19-year-old fall. He could have fallen; he could have been pushed (doubtful, but possible) or could have jumped–any of which also doesn’t necessarily have to be alcohol-related.

I hope these people lose their shirts. They claim that their suit is designed to shift the focus of fraternity parties away from alcohol. If that’s the case, why not launch an actual campaign to that end? (Fat chance, anyway–no group of college students, Greek or otherwise, is going to sit around drinking bug juice and playing Donkey Party.) How is cleaning out Pi Kappa Phi’s coffers going to keep anyone from drinking? Rather than hanging a mourning wreath–too old fashioned, I’m sure– the family is wearing its litigiousness on its sleeve.

A similar event occurred last year at the University of Maryland. Again, the fraternity was to blame. Why? Having belonged to a fraternity (and indeed, being a member of the Century Club–the 100 beer shots in 100 minutes game that ostensibly killed the young Washingtonian), I can’t see that alcohol consumption is distinctly greater per imbiber at fraternity parties than it is at non-fraternity parties.

It is the fashion now to blame anybody but oneself for any misfortune. Unfortunately, accidents happen, and this kid could have gotten just as bombed and taken a 30-foot spill whether he’d pledged a fraternity or not.

The good, simple people of Middle America should move beyond their wide-mouthed, bluestockinged terror of the Greek system and teach their own damned children how to drink responsibly. By the time an American citizen reaches nineteen, he is able to vote in general elections, and should certainly know his limits when drinking.

Maryland has now had its wettest Spring on record for my lifetime, and I’m tired of it. We had hideous droughts the last two Summers, and the global warming people were busily peeing themselves in terror. This year, it’s the last week of May, I’m still wearing letter-sweaters to fend off the chill, and my rosebushes have a zillion buds because it’s been wet but no real blooms because there’s been no sun.

The real problem isn’t the depressing grey sky or the waterlogged garden.

The real problem is that I have no clean drawers.

I personally believe that I am very up to date and fashionable because my house is electrified. I live in the city that brought gaslight to the world—until we cooked up the idea, everybody else was still dittybopping around by candlelight—and oh, how we did love our gaslight. Everybody else ditched it by 1920; in the ‘50s there were still several thousand houses in Baltimore lit entirely by gas.

Thus, my electricity isn’t much to shout about; I have precisely enough power to keep all the lights in the house burning at once, but not much else. It’s inadvisable to run the electric washing machine and the dishwasher at the same time; even less advisable to use the computer while running the washing machine if I hear the fridge cycle on. (Not that anything truly cataclysmic will happen, but a fuse WILL blow and I’ll be blown into instant annoying darkness until I can trip my way into the dining room to find candles.) And you thought my tendency to spring-wound gramophones was simply a matter of musical taste…

I rather like it this way. It’s cheap to run. I’m kept from the extravagance and temptations of things like electric dryers and deep-freeze air conditioning and other such notions that cost a lot to install and make the Gas and Electric company rich. Then, I do own stock in Balto G&E, so I’d actually make myself rich, but… oh, bother the circular logic.

The upshot of this whole thing is that I haven’t an electric dryer and therefore have to hang clothes outside. I like doing so not only because it saves money, but because—yes, even in deepest darkest midtown Baltimore—clothes dried outside smell fresh and nice. Also, sunlight is an amazing bleaching agent. I’ll never forget the horrible wine stains that I thought had ruined a fine tablecloth that my grandmother had brought over from Oesterreich. Two turns over my glass washboard and one afternoon in Baltimore sunlight and it was as pure as the day it left Graz. True, because of the never-ending rain this week, I had to bring one load of laundry back in to rinse it because it had been rained on twice in a row, but I hung it back out this morning and it dried quickly and was as fresh as anything.

The idea of hanging clothes outside to dry is one that survives only in inner cities and in far rural quarters. The suburbs find clotheslines tacky—a neighborhood in which my parents looked at a potential retirement home forbade clotheslines. Odd that suburbia should ban the basic trappings of humanity in the process of destroying nature.

In any case, the weather gods have smiled upon me, or at least my underwear drawer, and there’s been a break in the rain. I’ve scrubbed every pair of drawers I own and hung them out to dry, and unless it pours again between now and 7AM, I’m flush in my underpinnings for the next two weeks.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

And while I think of it: Be sure to czech out Lisa's blog, It contains the text of the Virginia historic marker that she researched and wrote--very significant, since it deals with the Middle Peninsula Indian culture, which has been overlooked far too long in the annals of the Old Dominion.

Further, I have decided to accept the City's offer, and unless I come down with Ebola or something, will be teaching "The Spanish Tragedy" to Baltimore high school students come September.

Those of you who are regulars here in the basement of Kernan's Hotel know that I am morally opposed to our recent war in the giant sandbox over there, but that I am also rabidly supportive of our boys in BDU's (specifically certain redheads who shall remain nameless). Since I'm also a rabid Germanophile, the United States' efforts against Germany and Austria in 1917-18 don't sit well, although I think we had the right idea in 1941. (Pity we had to wipe out Dresden in the process, but...)

No matter what my beliefs here and yon, I wish to make my own Memorial Day observance (yes, yes, I know--REAL Memorial Day is not until Friday, but I might be working or travelling that day, so I'm doing it now on the Carter Administration Approved Day).

Much in the vein of the lady whom I lambasted a couple of days ago, I would like to don an unearned uniform and salute the men and women of the United States, the Confederate States, and those of Germany, Austria, France,Poland, Hungary and Great Britain as well, who have fought for their nations in the last two centuries. Right or wrong ceases to be an issue in their memory. They fought for their land, their people, and what they believed was right.

That is enough for me, and may the roses of honor wreath their memories forever.

Friday, May 23, 2003

I have never liked Mary Pickford. Although obviously an actress of some merit, she was forever being cast in smarmy Pollyanna-ish roles, including, in fact, “Pollyanna.” Even her less saccharine efforts–“Kiki”, for instance, in which she (gasp!) smokes, leave her looking like a nun who’s dressed up as a hooker for Halloween. The truly creepy part of a Pickford movie is that one suspects she really IS like that and isn’t just acting.

What a relief to learn, courtesy of a recent biography, that Pickford was a steel-hulled bitch. Abandoned by an alcoholic father early on, she and her mother and sisters were forced, yes forced, to lower themselves to the theatre, and then (gasp again!) forced to turn to the galloping tintypes when The Stage wasn’t producing enough income. Little Gladys Smith (I’m not sure how Mary Pickford can sound more homespun than a name like Gladys Smith, but evidently it did) proceeds to marry a handsome tippler, refuses to sleep with him and goes home to Mother at night, and then blames him for the ruination of their marriage. Leaving poor Owen in the lurch as his career fades, she sets her sights on also-handsome but better-built Dougie Fairbanks, whose star was on the rise. Never mind that Dougie was inconveniently married–what’s a bit of adultery when you’re America’s Sweetheart? Sensing that some timely patriotism couldn’t hurt her career, the Canadian-born Pickford made sure that she was frequently photographed kissing flags, got herself named an honorary Colonel in the U.S. Army, and sold more war bonds than anyone. The Little American was also photographed with a spiked medieval cudgel. “Did you know,” she quavered, “this is what the Huns use to kill the boys when they don’t want to use ammunition?” No, I didn’t, and I’ll bet the Huns themselves didn’t know either. Sentiment aside, it’s hard to imagine the maniacally-efficient German Army coming after the enemy with the equivalent of a pointy softball bat. If Owen Moore didslug that prissy little monster, as she claimed in divorce court, more power to him.

Doug and Mary were everything that was and is wrong with Hollywood aristocracy. Being from the polar opposite of genteel birth, they decided to give themselves gentility and naturally got it all wrong. Uneducated, they surrounded themselves with luminaries of academe as well as screen. Striving for 100% By Gawrsh American Wholesomeness, they refused to serve liquor or even wine at Pickfair, the architectural accident from whose disjointed clapboard halls they reigned. Certain parties were not admitted to the Royal Presence: Clara Bow (too Brooklyn; noticeably said “fuck” onscreen), Valentino (too Italian, too much competition for Doug), Ramon Novarro (too Hispanic, too gay) and Joan Crawford (hell, I wouldn’t let her in my house, either). While the facade of propriety hid their sub-bourgeois roots, other pretensions spray-painted the facade. Incurably romantic, they committed vast gaucheries by insisting on being seated together at formal dinners and refusing to dance with anyone else at balls.

From Doug and Mary’s Excellent Adventure, I’ve learned a few things:

1) There’s a reason I liked Clara Bow better.
2) Maybe money can buy happiness, but it can’t buy class.
3) If you’re going to pretend you’re something you’re not, get it right.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Another chapter of theatrical history has, blissfully, ended. After 6,680 performances, “Les Miserables” has finally gone not-so-gently into the good night whence it should have retreated approximately 6,600 performances ago.

The show’s long life is mostly indicative of the lack of any decent competition. Although some of the gems from the past have been revived in the past few years, they’re known quantities. Wonderful shows, but nothing new under the marquee. Then again, there’s no accounting for taste; from 1922 to 1927 “Abie’s Irish Rose” ran a then-unprecedented 2,327 performances, and it was the worst piece of hokum to come down the pike since the overdone “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” touring productions forty years earlier. A few years before “Abie’s Irish Rose”, the equally-dippy “Amber Empress” had a gorgeous musical score – a nugget of usefulness that “Abie” lacked entirely – but only survived a miserable fifteen performances and one Victor record, never to be revived or heard from again.

Boiled down to its basic elements, “Les Miserables” was a boring musical based on a boring novel set in a foolish bored-student revolution that no one remembers anymore and wasn’t even a particularly noble cause. It paired pathos and melodrama in a way that hadn’t been seen since the halcyon days of such theatrical bilge as “East Lynne”, but its ostensible social message carried weight in the modern age, when witty plots and haunting refrains are considered useless if they don’t bolster audience self-righteousness.

Sadly, “Les Miz”, as it is hight amongst its followers, is typical of modern musical production in the wake of the Bad Ship Lloyd-Weber. Few tunes are catchy because Broadway is no longer mined for popular songs and dance numbers, since popular songs no longer have melody and modern social dancing requires only pelvic thrusts. Sets have taken surrealism to a new level (wait; does surrealism have levels, or does it have fur-covered ratchets?), mixing minimalism with laser shows and giant turntables that dispense with traditional scene changes. Worse, perhaps, is the style of vocal performance that emphasizes a brassy throat voice. The richer, more melodious chest voice is now unnecessary because, even in the front row, the voices you hear come through loudspeakers thanks to remote mikes attached to everyone’s collar.

There have always been “social message” plays; the curiosity is that this one became such a hit despite its uninspired music and complete lack of staging (with turntables, staging becomes a nonentity). Is it simply a universal lack of taste?

I’d like to mount a production of “Das Land des Lachelns” in this country. (Oh, fine, we can translate it and call it “The Land of Smiles”.) As operettas go, it’s pretty depressing; no one ends up happy in the end because the two main couples can’t deal with racial and cultural differences (Austrian vs. Chinese). The show does, however, have one of the most beautiful scores ever written; it gives you plenty of chances for romantic scenes and gorgeous costumes, and there’s plenty of comic relief to tone down the rather dark overall messages. Notably, no one ever even tried to produce the 1929 show in New York, though it swept away its competition in Vienna, Berlin, Paris and London. It would be interesting to see how American audiences react to a good show with a message.

It would probably close after a dozen performances.

Friday, May 16, 2003

After the whole “Talk to the Hand!” bit a couple of years ago, I can’t look at the Idiot-Friendly pedestrian crossing signs the same way. Why is the stupid light telling me to talk to the hand?

In at least one place in Baltimore there is an ancient crossing sign that says “Walk” and “Wait”. I’m not going to say where it is, because if some city worker or advocate for the illiterate finds out it’s still there, it will vanish before I finish typing this.

I am aware that European countries also use pictograms on their street signs, but for once I’m not going to champion the European fashion. The little fedora’d green guys on Berlin’s walk signs are cute and all, but European traffic signs are universally nonsensical. They require you to memorize a vast array of colors and shapes without actually telling you a damned thing. By the time you remember what a yellow circle with three red slashes through it mounted on a blue triangle means, you’ve driven up the steps of the Michaelerkirche and have flattened six hapless Japanese tourists and two frantic German policemen (who know precisely what all three hundred different signs mean).

The trouble with pictograms is that, while you don’t need to understand English to see them, they assume familiarity. Over the years, we’ve figured out what the crosswalk signs mean, but someone from a different culture might not know and would be every bit as lost as if the signs still said “Walk” and “Wait”. If I didn’t know better, I might simply assume that the glowing red hand was simply trying to be friendly. The weirdly-articulated “walking man” that means “Walk” – what the hell might THAT be telling me to do? Is that how I’m supposed to stand? Or does it just mean “Warning: Stick People Ahead”?

Pedestrian pictograms are the sad result of thirty years’ worth of people running around like hand-wringing chickens worried that someone, somewhere, will be discriminated against. They might have to dig through every alleyway in Baltimore to find someone so brain-dead that he can’t read a “Walk” sign, but damnit, when they find him he’ll be able to cross the street (or he’ll be on the lookout for stick people).

Instead of spending I-don’t-want-to-know-how-much on making the streets safe for the illiterate, why don’t we focus on stamping out illiteracy? Teach someone to read and he’ll read for a lifetime; put up a sign without words and he’ll just talk to the hand.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The Sun weighed in this morning with the information that it is pollen season. We who have been sneezing ourselves senseless and rubbing our eyes blind for three weeks now say “Well, DUH.” The paper also offered helpful advice to reduce allergic reactions, which proves to be about as helpful as the No-Sneezum Dance.

“Avoid outdoor activities between 5 and 10 AM”. I should, perhaps, just teleport to work? OK, Doctor, I’m ready–beam me up to campus!

“Don’t hang laundry outside”. Umm, I don’t have a dryer. Perhaps walking around in wet clothes would keep the pollen issue down, but it would be really annoying and I’d leave little puddles behind if I stood in one place for too long.

“Pollen can collect on clothing. Change clothes after you’ve been outside.” See above issue. The last thing I need to do is to create more laundry.

“When indoors, use your air conditioner” What air conditioner? Stupid paper, you’re addressing a city full of houses almost entirely built before 1950 and mostly built before 1925. If people HAVE air conditioners (I don’t), they’re room units.

“Wear a mask and goggles while mowing the lawn” Well, one of the nice things about rowhouses is that there just isn’t much of a lawn. I can mow the whole thing in about five minutes with a weed whacker--which is good, because if I need to wear a mask and goggles, I don't want to be outside long enough for anyone to see me. Even with only five minutes on the clock one of the little old ladies in the apartment house up the block would call the police to report a space alien. Lawns are for suburbanites; city gardens are for drinking gin and tonics. Oh–wait, maybe they’re not. The next gem of advice?

“Avoid drinking alcohol and exposure to cigarette smoke”. You idiots! Alcohol and cigarette smoke are two of the only things that make the stupid allergic reactions bearable! It’s bad enough that my eyes are swollen shut and I’ve sneezed my teeth into next week–now you’re telling me I can’t even have a lousy drink?

I wonder what I’d have to do to get exiled to Siberia. It might be hell on earth, but it’s probably fairly low on pollen. Just my luck–I’m probably allergic to sled dogs.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Just when I was despairing of ever finding a decent cocktail in Baltimore outside my own house, I went downtown to meet some friends on Sunday afternoon and found two places that wet my whistle quite adequately.

The first is Burke’s, where I’d really only ever had beer to accompany the nice, old-fashioned food they serve. The drinks really shouldn’t have surprised me; everything about Burke’s is caught in a cocktail-era time warp from the pseudo-Tudor décor to the inexpensive, delicious, and decidedly unadventurous cuisine.

Exotic food seems to preclude a good mixed drink. Go to someplace that features things like sour beef and panned oysters and you’ll get an expertly poured drink every time. Head for the joints that don’t have decimal points on the prices next to the seared bla bla en croustade with asparagus tips, a light bla bla sauce and a dusting of bla bla, and the waiter will invariably come back to your table after mystifying the bartender with your order of an incredibly basic drink. At Burke’s this Sunday, I saw the waitress headed back in my direction and was getting ready to say “Oh, screw it, just bring me a gin and tonic” when she plonked my perfectly made and very-large-for-the-price gin rickey down on the table.

Since my friends were killing time before the theatre and I was killing time before—well, before more drinks, we stopped at the Hotel Lord Baltimore for a pre-theatre and pre-drink drink. At this point I moved back to the more standard Manhattan, but was nonetheless surprised by its quality—though the Lord Baltimore is obviously going for tourist dollars, as it rang up an awfully-high-for-Baltimore ticket of $6.00. Best of all was the chance to sit in the plush velvet chairs of the pretty old 1928 hotel, which has thankfully just been un-1985’d, while chatting over drinks and listening to a pianola that had been equipped with a roll of Gershwin favorites.

I’ve always thought the idea of having one’s own regular table at the local grand hostelry was one of the marks of true Sartorial elegance, and I’m very close to making that leap for the corner table at the Lord Baltimore bar.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Not having kept up with the news from my favorite city as faithfully as perhaps I should, I just got the news today that Schwarzschild Jewelers is closing its flagship store on Richmond’s once-bustling Broad Street.

If the death of the two giant department stores signed the death warrant for downtown Richmond, the evacuation of Schwarzschild’s must be the last clod of earth thrown on the coffin. Of course, the company couldn’t be expected to keep the store open as a customer-less showpiece, and I admire their pluck in staying downtown long after everyone else made the ever-lengthening trip westward.

In my college years it seemed that Richmond’s downtown was the last remaining real downtown in the East. Though all of the big picture palaces had closed a few years earlier (and even they had held on longer than their Baltimore and Washington cousins), the two big stores were open and going strong. Stylish boutiques lined Grace Street. Being at the corner of 6th and Grace reminded me of everything that Baltimore had pissed away years earlier.

It seems, looking back, that it all went away overnight, except Schwarzschild’s, bravely sticking it out in the shadow of the mighty Central National skyscraper. Even that Deco-era symbol of confidence is mostly unoccupied now, its terrazzo-lined main banking floor hosting only dust bunnies as customers. I am still at a loss to explain how the East Coast’s most livable and pleasant city, full of charming residential areas and cultural amenities, has at its core a beautiful but utterly vacant downtown. The city government has done absolutely nothing to alter the situation, coming up with periodic hallucinatory schemes to revitalize the city’s center.

It is scant comfort to know the blithe ghosts of girls trying on dresses at Miller and Rhoads will now be joined by the spirits of anxious young men trying to pick just the right engagement ring from Schwarzschild & Co.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Oh, and happy V-E day to our American readers.

As the various versions of Memorial Day approach, it’s time once again to examine one of life’s great mysteries: the appropriate schedule for white clothes.

Why should this be so hard? It’s a hard and fast rule: no white before Memorial Day, no white after Labor Day.

Or is it? The whole point of white linen, seersucker and straw is that they’re much cooler than heavy winter clothes. By the time the official Memorial Day rolls around, most of the South has been stifling under temperatures in the high seventies for six weeks. If we had to sit around in alpaca suits until the last weekend of May there’d be nothing alive south of Philadelphia. (Don’t even talk to me about “winter white”, the color formerly known as taupe. It’s a brainchild of the fashion industry cooked up to sell you more shoes, just like the fifty-odd holidays invented by Hallmark to keep you buying cards year round.)

Using Easter as a benchmark doesn’t work either, because even if Easter is actually nice and conducive to cord suits and linen dresses, the week after could easily be barely above the freezing point, and there you’ll be with all of your warm toasty things packed up in mothballs.

The former Confederate states never had a universal Confederate Memorial Day, but almost all of them take place long before the end of May—except two. Virginia (naturally trying to claim that it was the first to have ANY Memorial Day) celebrates the usual, universal one; and Louisiana opts for June 3. I figure the dates are earlier so that people can decently wear seersucker earlier. As for Louisiana—well, it’s always hot there, so it doesn’t make much difference.

Since Maryland has been waffling on a Confederate Memorial Day for a hundred and fifty years (and why shouldn’t it? It waffled badly enough about secession in the first place) I’m claiming South Carolina’s day, May 10, as a good clothing change date.

This is, of course, an entirely self-serving decision. It allows me to wear a snappy new straw hat on Preakness Day.

Monday, May 05, 2003

The Lady, or the Tiger? My chronic state of being a temp seems to be finally, well, tempered. I’ve scored a job offer from the City of Baltimore. My mission, should I choose to accept it, will be to instruct the youth of our fair city in the finer points of the English language. (Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll be lucky if I can get three kids per year to conjugate “be” correctly.) At the same time, there’s a fairly good prospect of getting a permanent job here at JHU.

Why are these overwhelming life decisions invariably fraught with “ifs”? The teaching job pays reasonably well, but the job at JHU (should I get an offer) pays significantly more. The teaching job is probably my last real chance to do something with my degree (read: something I find even marginally interesting), but the job at JHU would ensure that I’d never have to worry about paying all the bills on time.

This, as they say, is the way the ball bounces…ten years with no sign of a decent job prospect, and now two land in my lap simultaneously. If nothing else, the ensuing angst ought to do wonders for my karma.

My own present employment drama coincides with the local PBS station’s presentation of “Manor House”, one of public TV’s efforts to create a reality show for the non-mentally-challenged. A modern middle-class family is plonked into the milieu of a nouveau-aristocracy family of 1906; they’re accompanied by a coterie of volunteers who assume the roles of various household staff. There’s a good bit of strife; the modern types don’t feel too comfortable shoved into the restrictive lifestyles of a century past. Personally, I think I’d do a fine job as a butler (being too short and not pretty enough to be a footman). If I were, you can bet that family would have the shiniest damned silver in the Empire. The staff—particularly those who got stuck with the crummier workloads—make a lot of noise about oppression, etc.

I don’t see the oppression at all. Sure, the pay is low, but you also get free room and board. The uniforms would be paid for. The income, small or not, would be completely disposable. And if the work is hard, it’s still work, isn’t it? I don’t see why people mind the necessity of servants to defer to the family they work for. It’s simply part of the job description. I’m expected to behave deferentially to the President of the University; what’s so oppressive about bowing your head to the lord of the manor? Hell, he’s paying you to do it. If you don’t want to do it, you can get a job in a factory.

The disappearance, between the two World Wars, of domestic service created a gigantic void in the economies of both Britain and the US. Even the most basic middle-class households employed at least one person to function as cook/maid/nanny; a house the size of my St. Paul street rowhouse probably involved two or three household staff. Assuming that each house in the row had two people on staff, that’s thirty-eight jobs created by one city block alone. How many job opportunities vaporized forever when that particular aspect of society faded?

Sadly, for a good number of the people who would have once worked in domestic service there are few options. The school systems are trying desperately to focus more on math and science, but we cannot assume that every student will be able to excel. There will always be those whose forte is, in fact, silver polishing. Assuming that I end up trying to mold the minds of Baltimore’s youth, it will be very hard to come up with a plan to teach both the floor-buffers and the rocket scientists.

Friday, May 02, 2003

About six months ago I had a day off from work, and took advantage of the free time to go downtown and run the errands I’d been putting off for months. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant day, so I didn’t feel like walking downtown. Therefore, I parked myself with my umbrella at the corner of 22nd (formerly Brown) street and St. Paul, and waited for the first #3 or #61 car that happened along.

Baltimore’s bus system is less than a shadow of the glorious streetcar system we had once upon a time, when you could board the car and look up the street to see the next one trailing along about three minutes behind. The buses tend to travel in inconvenient packs; you can wait fifteen minutes and then three buses show up all at once. I was lucky that day, though. I stood at the corner for about forty seconds and a #61 pulled up, piloted by an operator I know well, and with a couple of friends already aboard headed downtown for some shopping and banking.

The bus lines on Charles and St. Paul streets also serve the last remaining railroad station in full operation, the Pennsylvania station. (There were five stations once; the B&O had the Camden and Mount Royal stations, the Pennsylvania RR had—what else, the Pennsylvania station, the Western Maryland had its ugly little Victorian Hillen Street Station, and the Pennsylvania and the Northern Central both operated the Calvert street station, which was roundly ignored by both railroads and left to die a dusty, uncelebrated death.) If the decline of railroads has ruined American transit, it has at least consolidated Baltimore’s deranged long-distance transportation into one building (I do wish, though, that they’d picked the frumpy and pleasant Mount Royal station, though, instead of the Pennsylvania’s sterile and bland Beaux-Arts edifice).

And so there I was, chattering away with Mrs. Simpson and speculating on the price of rotkohl (red cabbage, for the Auslander) when the car stopped at the train station. As usual, a crowd boarded the downtown car. A nice-looking, but flustered, gentleman sat down next to me and, interrupting my dissertation on the virtues of Huber’s cakes over Muhly’s, tapped me on the shoulder and said “Is this safe?”

I was entirely confused, only partially because I was really thinking about Huber’s lovely peach cakes and how much I wanted one even though I’d already planned to bake a Prince of Wales cake for my dinner party. He was evidently surprised when I turned around and begged his pardon. The man repeated, “Is this safe? You know, the bus?”

I was still entirely confused. “What are you talking about—the BUS?” I finally realized that the poor soul was one of those deluded suburbanites who believes that city buses are inhabited by drug fiends, muggers, hookers bearing knives, and possibly Iraqi terrorists—although these last would have to be very seriously lost if they ended up on one of Baltimore’s #3 downtown-bound cars.

My inherent rah-rah local pride was severely compromised by the desire to beat the living crap out of somebody who not only deserved it but expected it. I was tempted, as well, to give him an obscene leer and demand his wallet and various physical submissions.

Fortunately, whatever coolness of mind I have prevailed, and I merely told him that yes, city buses are dangerous, because you might meet people that are trying to get downtown and you never know what they’ll do.

Really now—what mugger in his right mind would attack somebody right on a city bus? You’re guaranteed to have witnesses, and you’re stuck on the bus until the next stop.

Now, the Jones Falls Expressway and the suburbanites careening along it in their Ford Expeditions (driver alone with no passengers, thanks, in a vehicle that could carry ten) at seventy miles an hour? That scares the crap out of me.